Click here for the video version of this post!
One of the first things I learned in my freshman year is the absolute need to study every single day. Even if there is no big test or assignment around the corner, reviewing your classes daily is the only way to make sure you are strengthening your knowledge on whatever you are learning, as well as filling in any gaps on unknown material that was lectured before. For weeks (and months) I was certain that people who told me I needed to study every day were just very unorganized people or were frightening me on purpose. However, if you are taking a course heavy in information like Law, you will quickly understand that it will be very difficult to remember every single detail that was lectured in multiple subjects, on the long run – and, in the end, you are also tested on the small details and not only on the big overall scheme of each class. If I could go back to my first semester, I would really push myself harder and organize my days to be able to review my previous classes.
Being a coffee hater throughout high school, I was always sure that I would never like the taste of it in my life. However, as soon as I got into my second year of college, I found out that the only way to survive a few of my classes was to drink an expresso beforehand. My addiction to coffee began as a need to survive. Now that I look back, my first year in college probably would have turned out better if I had more energy in class and while doing my assignments. However, I still try my hardest to never drink more than one cup a day – that really keeps my energy levels up, without creating addiction.
One of the things no one told me before going
to Law School was the ridiculous amount of money I would spend on textbooks
every single semester. Each one of my classes requires one or two mandatory textbooks, plus
statute law and a bunch of optional readings that most of the time you
end up buying because they are nowhere to be found in the library. Also, since Law is constantly being developed and changed, buying second hand books is not the best idea - most of the legal references in those books are probably outdated.
I remember that in my first year of Law School I refused to buy most of the textbooks the professors required me to, and I tried my hardest to study only with my class notes. Well, guess what? That ended up, as expected, in poor grades. The problem with Law is that 50% of our grade is the result of how hard we work at home. In class the professor doesn’t lecture ALL of the material we need to learn; they just summarize it as best as they can and highlight a few important things that they find relevant. However, in the final exam, all those details and footnotes in the textbooks will prove really useful to solve the cases and if you didn’t invest in your textbooks in the beginning of your term, you will not be able to use that information in your answers, which really harms your grade.
That takes me to the next point. For me, the best learning method is preparing all classes beforehand, be it lectures or discussion based classes. I only realized this in the end of my second year in college - and I think it makes a huge difference in your overall performance in class; if your professor uses the Socratic method to teach, preparing your classes thoroughly beforehand is absolutely essential!
Basically, if you anticipate most of what is going to be taught in your class, you will have most of the work done for that specific group of topics or information. By taking your own notes to class and completing them with what the information that the professor adds during the lecture, you will be able to reinforce your knowledge on the subject, finishing any incomplete arguments that you have written down and also letting you participate in class, asking questions on the thematic you’ve studied and discussing it with your professor and classmates. Also, preparing classes beforehand will let you organize your time better, scheduling a certain time to prepare a certain topic and/or chapter.
Unfortunately, I found it almost impossible to prepare classes and do all of this homework while I was handwriting my notes. If I could turn back in time and change something during my time in college, I would certainly stop spending so much time making everything pretty and would start typing it all. I am a big fan of handwriting notes - I love pens, stationery and also the handwriting part in itself. However, when I started getting an excessive workload, insisting on handwriting all of my preparatory notes, completing them in class and also solve and summarize case law by hand was hurting my grades, my social life and my stress levels (and my hand, lol). I then had to make the hard decision to give up on all of my pretty stationery and start bringing my laptop to class.
I still handwrite a few notes, especially when I use the column method (which you can find more about here), but I am actually happy now that I have made the change – I can be much more productive and organized while saving a huge amount of time for all the other things I enjoy doing.
Finally, and I think this is the most important piece of advice I can give you: some people enter college with a very specific mind-set on what they want to do with their lives. While you are reading this, there is a huge possibility that you have already thought about a certain career; maybe you are picking only the classes that you think will help down that career path, as well.
However, never ignore all the other options that will be laid out for you. I can personally speak about my own experience: when I entered Law School back when I was 18 (I am now 21), I had a very specific idea of what I wanted to accomplish after I graduated - I was sure I wanted to be a judge. As soon as I got into my second year and started studying the most basic principles of contract law, I was 100% sure that I had actually changed my mind, and that it was imperative to purse contract law. Then, in my 5th semester, I started studying Tax Law - I still remember thinking that Tax Law was it and I was then decided to pursue it for my master’s degree; but then, I was able to get an internship in a law firm, in the Intellectual Property Law department; and you know what? I changed my mind again.
So it’s perfectly normal to change your mind along the way; you are not less worthy of college just because you are still not sure of what you want to do career wise. Also, changing majors is fine - it’s just a sign that you are progressing as a human being and as a student, that you were willing to embrace new opportunities and give up on something that would not make you happy. Just make sure that you do your research beforehand on different career paths and use all the opportunities that college gives you in order to learn new things and meet new people. Internships, and other short-termed opportunities like job-shadowing programs are great ways to understand if you fit in the specific area you are thinking of pursuing or if, in real life, it has nothing to do with you.
Lots of luck!